Pandora’s ski terrain, lift gets final federal OK on Aspen Mountain
PANDORA’S AT A GLANCE
Aspen Skiing Co. submitted an application in January 2018 to the U.S. Forest Service to develop terrain and a chairlift in the Pandora’s area on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. Most of the terrain was already in the ski area boundary but not utilized for developed skiing. The Forest Service granted final approval Friday. Skico must still obtain approvals from Pitkin County.
Here’s what the project will add:
• 79 acres of traditional, cleared trails.
• 101 acres of gladed terrain for tree skiing.
• Extension of the existing Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi trails by about 1,500 feet downhill.
• A detachable quad chairlift to serve the terrain.
• 53 acres of additional snowmaking on existing terrain on upper Aspen Mountain. It would cover One and Two Leaf, Silver Bell, Dipsy Doodle, Buckhorn, North American and Copper Trail. The expansion would ensure top-to-bottom coverage.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a final decision Friday for development of the Pandora’s terrain and chairlift on Aspen Mountain as well as expanded snowmaking on the upper third of the ski area.
Aspen Skiing Co. will add about 180 acres of terrain and a new chairlift on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. The Pandora’s terrain is to the skier’s right of the existing Walsh’s run. Installation of the chairlift also will allow downhill extension of the Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi trails.
Skico hopes to have the new lift installed and new terrain developed for the 2020-21 season.
“This project will greatly improve the skiing experience especially in the early season, and will add some exciting new terrain at Aspen Mountain,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River Forest supervisor and deciding official for the projects.
Skico officials were cautious Friday about discussing the project because the Pitkin County commissioners must still rule on it as part of their Aspen Mountain Master Development Plan review.
Skico also wants to expand the existing snowmaking system on Aspen Mountain by 53 acres. It would cover terrain on One and Two Leaf, Silver Bell, Dipsy Doodle, Buckhorn, North American and Copper Trail.
Skico will aim to add part of the expanded snowmaking system this summer, but doesn’t expect to have time to install all of it. In addition, the company hopes to cut the trails in the Pandora’s terrain next summer. The chairlift would be installed in summer 2020, if all goes as planned.
The Forest Service issued a decision notice in November 2018. The final step in the review was to rule on objections to the decision raised by Aspen Skiing Co. and Wilderness Workshop. The Rocky Mountain Regional Office upheld decisions by Fitzwilliams.
Skico objected to some minor, technical issues in the draft decision. Wilderness Workshop asked the Forest Service to stop approving snowmaking expansions until the agency can look at a broader study of environmental impacts of numerous snowmaking projects. The Aspen Mountain snowmaking was allowed to advance. The Forest Service required Skico to file a comprehensive drainage management plan to try to ensure Spar Gulch and Keno Gulch aren’t overwhelmed with water when the snow melts.
Even with county approval, the terrain development and expanded snowmaking might get off to a slow start this year because of the ample snowpack. The snowpack in the Aspen area is about 135 percent of the 30-year mean. That could hinder fieldwork.
“While the cleared trails remain popular, an increasing number of users enjoy gladed terrain within more natural settings,” the application said. “This trend is evidenced by the increased use of side-country terrain — the areas immediately adjacent to the ski area boundaries.”
The lift-served gladed terrain will be geared toward advanced intermediate and expert skiers, the application said.
Aspen Mountain’s ratio of gladed terrain to cleared terrain is lower than many other ski areas, the Forest Service review noted.
Aspen Mountain’s existing trail network covers 699 acres. Development of the Pandora’s terrain would add 79 acres of “traditional” trails and 101 acres of gladed terrain, according to the Forest Service review.
All terrain would be accessed by a detachable quad chairlift.
“In addition to serving the proposed Pandora terrain, the proposed lift alignment was designed to allow the Pandora lift to service several existing trails on Aspen Mountain’s east side, such as Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi, and to lengthen the terrain,” the Forest Service review said.
The location of the top terminal of the lift will provide direct access to the Sundeck. The bottom terminal will be about 1,500 feet downslope of the existing lower boundary of Walsh’s.
A graphic in the review showed that 8 of 15 new cleared trails would be considered “expert,” six rated “intermediate” and one rated “low intermediate.”
The gladed terrain — covering 101 acres — isn’t rated by ability.
Aspen Mountain’s current snowmaking system covers 172 acres from the Deer Park trail to the base. The expanded system covers the upper portion of the mountain and guarantees top-to-bottom skiing.
Most of the Pandora’s terrain was in Skico’s existing special-use permit, but it wasn’t previously utilized. The Pandora’s area has been a popular out-of-bounds powder destination for skiers for decades.
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It’s hard to fight City Hall and even harder to fight well-funded neighbors who don’t want any development near them, a local man has realized. So he settled for less than what he and his partner bought the property for.